Chenchen: Wood of 1,000 Names
Chenchen: Wood of 1,000 Names  Sponsored by: Northwest Hardwoods: Lumber that’s Graded For Yield®.
Chenchen: Wood of 1,000 NamesChenchen, an Africa wood species with a long list of applications has an even longer list of names.
The tree is called chenchen or antiaris, but also ako, koto, and kyenkyen are most commonly used, as well as bonkonko, kirundu, oro, ogiovu, ako, andoum, tsangu, akeche, mkuzu, mlulu, and mumaka.
It also is referred to as white sapele or white mahogany because it has a nice ribbony-grain pattern similar to the ribbon stripe in sapele.

In English it may be called bark cloth tree, antiaris, false iroko - a name some have taken issue issue with - false mvule or upas or ancar tree, its Javanese names, or in the Indonesian language, bemu. In the Philippines it is upas, and in Malaysia Ipoh or ancar, in Thai it is the yangyong. On China's Hainan Island, it is the "Poison Arrow Tree" because its latex was smeared on arrowheads in ancient times for use in hunting and warfare.

Okay, so this tree definitely has naming issues.

High grade chenchen with good color and an interesting grain pattern is used in high-end projects, such as architectural woodworking applications. Chenchen logs are large and generate a very good yield of material.

It offers a nice light color and is an attractive wood that can be stained. It is easy to go from dark to light with this wood. Lower grades are typically rotary cut, and used for backing in plywood.

Chenchen is not a mainstream veneer in the U.S. market, like cherry, makore or sapele.  In Africa, it is used extensively as a commodity wood. In addition to veneer and plywood, chenchen is used for furniture components and joinery. It is also used in light construction, and in boxes and crates.

Family Name
Antiaris toxicaria of the Family Moraceae. Closely related species include Antiaris Africana and Antiaris welwitschii

Common Names
Chen chen or chenchen, antiaris, kyenkyen, quen, bark cloth tree, ako, mkuzu, mlulu, oro, ogiovu, kirundo, mumuka, upus, adoum, bonkonko, false iroko, white sapele

Trees can reach heights of 120 to 150 feet with straight boles clear to 70 feet and trunk diameters of 2 to 5 feet. Weight ranges from 23 to 33 pounds per cubic foot.

Wood works easily with hand and machine tools. Experts recommend use of sharp cutting tools.

Glues and nails satisfactorily.

Has an innate luster and can be stained and finished well.

Light-colored wood, ranging from a white yellow to yellow brown with no distinction between its sapwood and heartwood.

The wood is perishable and susceptible to attack by the powder-post and ambrosia beetles.

Numerical Values (Dry)*
Janke Hardness - 505
Bending Strength - 7325
Crushing Strength - 4952
Impact Strength - 14
Stiffness - 1004
*Woodworker Resource Database

In fact it is these industrial uses that may be giving chen chen some attention lately (interest has been trending up at - as a candidate for an alternate to balsa wood. So far chen chen is a fairly small-scale source of timber, but it yields a lightweight hardwood with density of 23 to 33 pounds per cubic foot (250-540 kilogram per cubic meter) - similar to balsa.

Shortages of balsa wood - used historically in model planes  - have been cropping up, perhaps because balsa is used in those very large wind turbine blades. They contain carefully arrayed strips of balsa wood from Ecuador, which provides 95 percent of the world’s supply. 

turbine blades contain carefully arrayed strips of balsa wood from Ecuador, which provides 95 percent of the world’s supply. - See more at:…

Chenchen wood peels very easily and evenly, so it is commonly used for veneer. It's mainly used for the panel industry in the United States and it's typically quartered.

It is sometimes referred to as blonde sapele because it has a similar ribbon stripe, but some have taken issue with another name for the tree, false iroko, because chenchen is relatively soft and lightweight while iroko is as hard as a rock.

Chechen is a cleaner wood than sapele - it doesn't have the pin knots that sapele can have. It is one of the more economical trees from Africa. It grows thick and fast and abundantly. Trees are so large - that a single tree can yield 200,000 square feet of veneer. 

Chenchen has found use in the U.S. for architectural panels and store fixtures. In Africa, chenchen it is mass produced in plywood and used for inexpensive furniture.

Chenchen grows throughout the high forest zones of West, Central and East Africa. In Ghana, it is known as kyenkyen and chenchen. In Tanzania, it is called mkuzu and mlulu. In Nigeria, it is oro and ogiovu, while in Uganda it is called kirundo and mumaka. In Senegal, it is known as ako. Another regional name is bark cloth tree - because the inner bark of the tree was used to make white cloth. Long ago, the trees were cut to make canoes.

Antiaris will season without difficulty but requires extreme care after the tree is cut, otherwise a blue stain will develop. The trees routinely grow to 100 feet or more and are easily distinguished because of their distinctive smooth bark, which ranges from pale, dirty white, to yellow, to pure white.†

The authors of Tropical Timbers of the World from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service said that the wood seasons rapidly, but "there is a pronounced tendency to warp, particularly twisting." They suggest a kiln schedule of T2-D4 for 4/4 stock and T2-D3 for 8/4 stock.

Source: Albert Constantine Jr., Know Your Woods

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